Members of the City Assembly and Board of Education meet at Juneau City Hall on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Members of the City Assembly and Board of Education meet at Juneau City Hall on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Assembly and School Board wade through budget priorities

In a joint meeting, officials discuss how to move forward under reduced finances

Member of the Juneau Assembly and Board of Education came together for a joint meeting Monday night, gathered at folding tables laid out in the Assembly Chambers at City Hall, followed right after by a regular Assembly meeting.

At the top of the list for discussion was a budget drafted by the school board and Juneau School District detailing a number of capital improvement projects to be started in the next five years.

Most of those project repairs to roofs at a number of schools around town. The roof of Sayéik: Gastineau Community School needs partial replacement, according to documents drafted by the school district. Repairs will cost roughly $1.5 million and the district hopes to begin that project next year.

The most expensive item on the list, at an estimated $31 million is a wholesale renovation of Marie Drake, which houses Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School and Montessori Alternative School. The school district has that project slated for Fiscal Year 2024.

JSD Superintendent Bridget Weiss has drafted a letter to the state Department of Education and Early Development requesting funds for the two projects scheduled for 2020, roof replacements for Sayéik: Gastineau and Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School at a total of $3.25 million.

When Assembly member Greg Smith asked if the state would be providing funds for the capital improvement projects, School Board President Brian Holst replied, “I hope so.”

Holst said the state has a constitutional mandate to fund local schools but under the state’s current fiscal situation, when the state might allocate those funds was an open question.

[Check out the Empire’s live coverage of the meeting here]

Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski said the city was hoping the state would step up, “but at a certain point you have to stop waiting.”

Holst told the Assembly the list of capital improvement projects had been drafted in consultation with the Juneau School District and the city Department of Engineering which assessed the needs of the buildings.

The School Board also walked Assembly members through its list of priorities for the 2019-2020 school year. Among the priorities were reading at grade level by 3rd grade, enhancing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Tlingit language integration and kindergarten readiness as well as improved high school offerings through collaboration between high schools.

When the time came for Assembly members to put forward ideas of what they’d like to see the school district pursue in the coming years, Assembly member Wade Bryson brought up increasing the level of vocational classes like woodworking or metal shop.

Bryson also suggested what he jokingly referred to as “adulting classes,” or classes which taught students practical skills like cooking or accounting.

“It’s fine to teach somebody French,” he said, “but how do they monetize that down the road?”

School board member Emil Mackey said that vocational classes, while a good idea, were some of the most expensive classes per student to provide.

While most of the Assembly took a generally favorable view of vocational and STEM focused classes, some felt the need to speak in defense of the Liberal Arts.

“If we really want to create critical thinkers,” Assembly member Carole Triem said, “we need to be teaching history and philosophy as well.”

Her sentiment was echoed by Michelle Bonnet Hale, who joined the meeting via phone. Reading and writing skills were just as essential skills for life as any STEM classes, she said.


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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